HARRISBURG — In a bitter and secret legal fight, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane has succeeded in ousting the judge who has long overseen corruption investigations in Pennsylvania, The Inquirer has learned.
After a conflict that had been roiling since she took office in January, Kane took the unusual step of asking the state Supreme Court to remove Judge Barry F. Feudale as the supervising grand jury judge in Harrisburg.
Kane told the high court in April in sealed papers that the judge was no longer fit to run a grand jury. Among other concerns, she cited an episode in which Feudale, stopping at her offices, showed a secretary a 10-inch knife.
Feudale, 67, has overseen grand juries in some of the Attorney General’s Office’s biggest cases, including the Bonusgate scandal in the legislature and the Penn State child sex-abuse case. Asked about Kane’s allegations, he called them “a sneak attack” that twisted facts.
“Kane is a politician first, second and third, and perhaps an AG … fourth and fifth,” he said.
Kane’s communications director, Joe Peters, rejected Feudale’s criticism. “She’s attorney general, first and only,” he said.
The dispute is part of a larger struggle, between the new attorney general and her office’s old guard of career prosecutors, that has spilled over into how several high-stakes cases are being handled — including a probe into political corruption in several counties, Philadelphia among them, according to people familiar with the situation.
The scope and specifics of that investigation could not be learned.
The battle between Kane and Feudale could also have repercussions for the recent charges against eight people in a pay-to-play scandal at the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
A lawyer in the case said the defendants had heard rumors about Feudale’s removal and had been wondering why — and if the reasons might somehow undermine the prosecutions and help the defense.
The dispute features strong personalities. The judge is a hiker, climber and kayaker, fond of piloting his Cessna to county courthouses across the state, and blunt-spoken on and off the bench.
In documents submitted to the high court, Kane, a former Lackawanna County prosecutor, argued Feudale should be removed because of behavior that included demeaning her and her predecessor, Linda Kelly, in an e-mail to a prosecutor who had left Kane’s staff.
The e-mail went to Frank G. Fina, a onetime top prosecutor in that office who built many of its most explosive cases. The judge e-mailed: “The Last General aka ‘Private’ Kelly, could not lead and was indecisive to the point that she was almost ineffective.”
Asked about the remark, Feudale said recently: “It was a cheap shot. I shouldn’t have said that.”
In the e-mail, the judge also disparaged a review Kane has launched into how the office pursued Penn State child molester Jerry Sandusky.
Feudale wrote that the review was “PATENT in its POLITICAL intent,” but that Fina, who led the Sandusky investigation, should cooperate with it.
In May, the Supreme Court ruled in Kane’s favor. The court’s order did not bar him from serving as a judge, but removed him from the grand-jury position. The order was sealed and has not been made public.
In an interview, Feudale said he would not talk about any grand-jury investigations. But he did discuss the circumstances of his removal.
He acknowledged that his e-mail ripping Kelly was a mistake, but said he stood by the criticism of Kane’s Sandusky-related probe. Feudale shared a copy of the e-mail with reporters.